With the Supreme Court allowing the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra at Puri, the Odisha government on Monday activated its administrative machinery on a war footing for smooth conduct of the annual festival to be held on June 23.
Chief Secretary A K Tripathy and Director General of Police (DGP) Abhay rushed to the pilgrim town to make the necessary arrangements.
"The DGP and I are rushing to Puri to take stock of the situation as per the direction of the chief minister. We will camp there," Tripathy said.
"I am confident that the Ratha Yatra will be conducted smoothly tomorrow without devotees and strict adherence to the COVID-19 guidelines," he said.
The Puri district administration held a preparatory meeting for the historic event and different departments were directed to keep their apparatus ready for the festival.
"All the departments like health, police, drinking water, energy, sanitation and local municipality are ready," Puri district collector Balwant Singh said and appealed to the people to cooperate with the administration and maintain discipline.
Shree Jagannath Temple Administration chief administrator Krishna Kumar said all the departments are well prepared as they are ready with their micro-planning.
The priests of the 12th century shrine performed the ritualistic 'Agyan Mala Bije' (a token garland signifying permission of the deity for the festival) for the three chariots.
Senior servitors of the temple carried the 'Agyan Mala' from the sanctum sanctorum of the temple and went in a procession to the three gigantic chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra and performed puja.
According to the tradition, the three chariots will be pulled only after getting 'Agyan Mala' from the Lord.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) core committee, headed by N C Pal, also inspected the three wooden chariots and verified that they are safe to be pulled.
MEanwhile, the Odisha government imposed a 'curfew-like' shutdown in Puri district ahead of the historic Lord Jagannath Rath Yatra and appealed to citizens to refrain from stepping out of their homes when the chariots roll out on the Grand Road on June 23 in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 'curfew-like' shutdown will be in force across the district from 9 pm of Monday till 2 pm on Wednesday, said DGP Abhay and appealed to the people to abide by the Supreme Court's directives while celebrating the historic Rath Yatra amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
The DGP also said that more than 50 platoons (one platoon has 30 personnel) of police force are being deployed for the security management of the nine-day festival.
"We have already started deployment of force since Sunday evening expecting to hold the Rath Yatra," Abhay said.
As holding of the Rath Yatra is permitted only in Puri this time, force deployment will be a difficult task and the whole focus of the police will be on the pilgrim town, Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Soumendra Priyadarshi said.
While the residents of Puri should refrain from moving out to watch the Lord's journey, people from other parts of the state have been urged not to proceed to the seaside pilgrim town, the DGP said.
"All the devotees, both in Puri and outside, can watch the proceedings on television," he said.
All the entry points to Puri have been sealed and no vehicle other than those for the purpose of the Rath Yatra preparation is allowed into the temple town, a senior official said.
Apart from the chief secretary and the DGP, all senior officials of the state government of different line departments have rushed to the pilgrim town for preparation for the festival, which is barely a few hours away.
The chief secretary said, "All the related departments are fully prepared. The Rath Yatra will be devotee and visitor less on Badadanda. All directions of the Supreme Court will be fully followed."
The Puri municipal authorities have asked all street vendors to vacate the Grand Road (Bada Danda) by Monday evening so that chariots can be pulled on Tuesday.
"We have no objection to vacating the place. The shopkeepers are happy that the chariots will roll on the Grand Road," said a shopkeeper.
Police said it had received a report saying that eggs were hurled at the house of Odisha Vikash Parishad president Sushanta Padhi, who had moved the Supreme Court to stall the Rath Yatra at Puri.
Padhi's car was also damaged in stone pelting by angry people who also raised slogans against him prompting lathi-charge by police to disperse the crowd.
Forces were deployed near his house at Bomikhal in Bhubaneswar.
Police said that CCTV footage is being checked to identify the attackers.
The apex court, while allowing the festival in Puri, said that it cannot micro-manage the rituals and left it to the wisdom of the state, the Centre and the temple management to deal with that issue.
The Centre has informed the court that the Rath Yatra can be conducted without compromising on the health of the citizens.
The Supreme Court's nod for the annual festival was granted on the basis of the state governments assurance that the Rath Yatra will be conducted by a limited number of servitors without any public participation in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.